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Cozier venue was a wise move for Obama's convention speech

The addresses by Obama and Vice President Joe Biden shared a musicality and the pacing of a well-structured set of songs.

September 07, 2012|By Robert Lloyd, Television Critic
  • President Barack Obama's speech and Vice President Joe Biden's  and Condoleezza Rice's last week  shared a musicality and the pacing of a well-structured set of songs.
President Barack Obama's speech and Vice President Joe Biden's… (Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images )

Originally scheduled — like the finale of the 2008 Democratic National Convention — to be held outdoors in a big stadium, the Thursday night finish to this year's meet was rescheduled from Charlotte's 75,000-seat Bank of America Stadium to the arena, a third the size, where the first two nights had unfolded.

Depending on whom you ask, this was because of a chance of storms (there was, indeed, rain during the day, though not the night) or to avoid the visual embarrassment — the "optics," as the commentators like to say — of empty seats.

Probably it was a bit of both, and either way, it seemed wise. The possibility of a low turnout aside, and granting the special qualities of a stadium show, it's harder to connect with the crowd in a big hall than a small one.

PHOTOS: 2012 Democratic National Convention

And after the electricity of Michelle Obama's and Bill Clinton's Tuesday and Wednesday star speeches — Clinton's spot beat football in the ratings — it would have been foolish to sacrifice the proven arena in the hopes of recapturing the magic of a historically unique moment four years ago. Whether or not that is good politics, it was good show business.

On a night in which the Video Music Awards were also going down over on MTV, there was a pitch for the youth vote, with appearances by Scarlett Johansson (in an American flag T-shirt); Caroline Kennedy addressing "the young and the young at heart" who "convinced your parents" to vote for Obama; and performances by the Foo Fighters — during which I learned that you can't judge a Foo Fighter fan by his or her cover — as well as Mary J. Blige and James Taylor, who came out to play on a stage set with an empty chair.

"It's all right," Taylor said. "I'm gonna sit on it. I'm not gonna talk to it."

There was some suggesting among the anchors and pundits that Vice President Joe Biden speaking not as the Wednesday headliner but as Thursday's opening act, partially out of the broadcast network spotlight, might be counted as an insult. But this is only true if you consider network coverage to be meaningful in a way that the networks themselves no longer consider meaningful.

In the sweep of the night as carried on cable, it made thematic sense: They were teammates, they were bros. ("I love him," Biden said of his boss.) Each was introduced by his wife, and each began his speech with a casual address to his family.

It was hard at first to see President Obama without seeing four years of Obama imitations overlaid on him — the burden every incumbent president must carry — but he soon burned those away. His speech and Biden's — and Condoleezza Rice's last week, for that matter — shared a musicality and the pacing of a well-structured set of songs: those alternations of tension and release, of soft and loud, of slow and fast, without which words are so much less than they can be.

The president finished big, surrendered the air to a burst of Springsteen, and the analysts moved in, to agree and disagree about what they'd just seen.

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